We’ve all been down the treacherous Trade Me rabbithole – but not everyone comes out with an authentic Elvis caravan. Alexia Santamaria met with a couple who did just that.
When Simon Jordan sat down after a couple of beers one September night in 2020 to idly indulge some thoughts of buying a mobile home, he didn’t imagine he’d end up the proud owner of an Elvis caravan, with authentic adornments acquired directly from Graceland itself, just two weeks later. But life (and a good APA) can lead you in all kinds of interesting directions, and fortunately this story ended up more ‘Viva Las Vegas’ than ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
While this 1968 retro caravan, with music notes dotting the outside, a spray art image of Elvis on the inside of the door, embossed guitar on the side, Elvis clock – and of course the mandatory nodding Elvis man toy – now lives with Simon and his partner Carolyn in the Auckland suburb of Waterview, it hasn’t always resided in Tāmaki Makaurau. Simon laughs. “It’s a pretty interesting conversation having to tell your partner you’ve kind of accidentally bought an Elvis caravan on Trade Me from the Coromandel and now need to park it on the lawn of your property. Luckily she was okay with it.”
While it looks great these days in its new home, the 1968 Crusader had fallen somewhat from its original glory when Noddy Watts, president of the hugely successful Repco Beach Hop Festival in Whangamata, found it in Port Waikato in 2017. “It had a pretty rusty chassis but I knew it would be good for a do-up,” says Noddy. “We were looking for one to restore for Beach Hop to auction like we’ve done for the last ten years to raise funds for the local emergency services.” The auction caravans have traditionally had a theme: Coca Cola, Betty Boop, Grease, Kiwiana, Route 66 and others have all featured. This has attracted a whole lot of retro caravaners to the event too; 2017 was all about an Elvis restoration.
Restoring was a team effort, as it usually is. “There’s always a crew of us volunteers so it’s quite fun with some music and a few beers – it’s pretty social,” explains Noddy. “Craig Morris painted the body in custom gold and the upholstery was done by Gordon Cromb in Tauranga. Ron from Custom Autoglass replaced the windows and rubbers while Peter Kidd laid the carpet with the custom guitar insert. Judy Garry sewed up the metallic gold curtains – it was fit for a King by the end,” he laughs. The Elvis touches actually came from the gift shop at Graceland itself as part of Noddy’s tour business KOT which (in non-Covid times) takes people to the United States on music and car tours. “We knew we were going to be needing Elvis paraphernalia for the 2017 caravan so we stocked up while we were there, which was pretty cool.”
When the Beach Hop auction day arrived, the caravan was looking fantastic and was sold at auction for $19,500 amidst the colour and retro fun of the Beach Hop Festival. “The couple who bought it had a place in Whangamatā and planned to use it as a sleepout. We were thrilled it raised so much.” says Noddy. But it turned out the Coromandel wasn’t to be its forever home. Even though they loved it, it didn’t quite fit their needs as they were looking for something a little more functional. When they sold it to Simon, although the caravan looked the part, it had no fridge, gas hob or sink.
But that wasn’t a problem for Simon and Carolyn who, over time, added all those essentials, plus solar power. It’s now a fully self-contained caravan that’s ready to take on New Zealand. The couple have taken it away a few times but it has spent a lot of 2021 doubling as an office space while Auckland was in lockdown. “It’s been a great way for us to have separate offices,” says Simon. “In fact since I’m using it primarily as that, when we’re not away, the business actually owns it now.”
While the couple are not particularly Elvis fans, they have been known to play a song or two when they are away, as seems appropriate when you own a caravan like this. “We love travelling in it,” says Simon. “I’ve always camped but this is great. As it’s an older caravan it’s quite light and easy to tow. I like that it’s always pretty much loaded up and ready to go anytime; you can just pull up to wherever you’re staying, drop it off, and you’re free to use your car as normal before coming home to Elvis.”
So, for the moment at least, this little piece of caravanning and Beach Hop history has found a home in suburban Auckland. And the couple love owning something with a great story and so much collaboration and good will put into its restoration. “It’s actually got all the names of the people who contributed along the side which is a really nice touch so we can remember its history. It’s certainly not what I set out to buy, but I’ve grown pretty fond of it and we can’t wait to get it out and about a bit more this summer.”
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